Feds Foresee Web 2.0 Challenges

Web 2.0 technologies — such as blogs, social networking Websites, video- and multimedia-sharing sites, and wikis — have the potential to better include the public in the governing process. However,

Web 2.0 technologies — such as blogs, social networking Websites, video- and multimedia-sharing sites, and wikis — have the potential to better include the public in the governing process. However, agency use of these technologies can present risks associated with properly managing and protecting government records and sensitive information, including personally identifiable information.

In light of the rapidly increasing popularity of Web 2.0 technologies, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) was asked to identify and describe current uses of Web 2.0 technologies by federal agencies and key challenges associated with their use. To accomplish this, GAO analyzed federal policies, reports and guidance related to the use of Web 2.0 technologies and interviewed officials at selected federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the General Services Administration and the National Archives and Records Administration.

As of July 2010, the GEO identified that 22 of 24 major federal agencies had a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Here are challenges identified by GAO that are associated with increased use of Web 2.0 policies:

>> Privacy and security. How does the Privacy Act of 1974, which provides certain protections to personally identifiable information, apply to information exchanged in the use of Web 2.0 technologies? How to appropriately limit collection and use of personal information as agencies use these technologies? How and when to extend privacy protections to information collected and used by third-party providers of Web 2.0 services?

How to safeguard personal information from security threats? What guidance may be needed for employees on how to use social media Web sites properly, and how to handle personal information in the context of social media?

>> Records management and freedom of information. How can agencies assess whether the information they generate and receive by means of these technologies constitutes federal records and establish mechanisms for preserving such records, which involves, among other things, determining the appropriate intervals at which to capture constantly changing Web content? How to appropriately respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests? (There are significant complexities in determining whether agencies control Web 2.0-generated content, as understood within the context of FOIA. Federal agencies have begun to identify some of the issues associated with Web 2.0 technologies and have taken steps to start addressing them.)

These and other challenges will need to be resolved before the federal government can fully embrace widespread use of Web 2.0 technologies.

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